Parshas Mishpatim: The Boundless Reward of Giving

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, the giving of the Torah continues with law after law –Mishpatim, which govern social order.  While the focus of Parshas Yisro is the exalted, awe-inspiring and holy revelation at Sinai, the focus of Parshas Mishpatim is how to apply Torah, mitzvos, and halacha (Jewish law) to our every day lives

Amongst the myriad of mitzvos in the parsha, the vast majority of which concern interaction bein adam l’chavairo (between man and fellow man), we are commanded: אִם-כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת-עַמִּי, אֶת-הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ–לֹא-תִהְיֶה לוֹ, כְּנֹשֶׁה; לֹא-תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו, נֶשֶׁךְ – When you will lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a creditor; do not place interest upon him (Shemos 22:24). 

Rashi teaches: Every אִם (usually translated as ‘if’) in the Torah implies a voluntary act, except for three times, and this is one of them.  Here אִם-כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת-עַמִּי does not mean ‘if you lend money to my people,’ rather, ‘when you lend money…’  Furthermore, Rashi comments, you should not treat him in a humiliating manner when lending to him, for he is עַמִּי, “(of) My people.”  And in regard to the words אֶת-הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ, “the poor person within you,” Rashi comments: Look at yourself as if you are the poor person. 

We are commanded: when you lend money to your fellow Jew; not if you shall lend money!  We are commanded to treat the poor person with dignity befitting of every person, and we should view ourselves as if we were the poor person!  For with one stroke of fate, the tables could well be turned. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “The idea of chessed rests upon this premise (of interdependence).  If one is utilitarian-minded, he should realize that to be charitable is practical and useful.  Even the simpleton may figure as follows: Now I am mighty, rich and capable of supporting others, and the thou is dependent upon me.  However, destiny is whimsical and changeable.  In the future, the roles might be reversed, and I, the now independent and powerful person, shall find myself in dire need, and he who petitioned me for help might be in a position to lend me support in time of trouble and crisis.  I must come to his assistance now to make it possible for me to appeal to him tomorrow when I shall need help” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.204).

R’ Soloveitchik relates the following well-known story: One winter day, R’ Elya Chaim Meisels (1821- 1912) of Lodz went to visit the home of a wealthy manufacturer by the name of Poznansky.  The butler answered the door; Reb Chaim entered the vestibule of the home and requested that Mr. Poznansky meet him there.  The butler responded that Mr. Poznansky would like to greet R’ Chaim in his study, but R’ Chaim insisted that Mr. Poznansky meet him in the vestibule.

Mr. Poznansky came to meet R’ Chaim, and they engaged in conversation for close to a half hour.  As the vestibule was not heated, Mr. Poznansky, shivering from the cold, asked R’ Chaim once again to enter the house where they could continue talking.  R’ Chaim responded that he had come to collect money for some destitute people in town who could not afford firewood.  He therefore insisted that Mr. Poznansky greet him in the vestibule so that Mr. Poznansky himself would experience the cold of winter” (ibid, p.205).

R’ S.R. Hirsch (Shemos 22:24) writes, “When G-d took Pharaoh’s slaves out of Egypt and first conferred upon them the right to own property as human beings and free individuals, he immediately bound them together into a community, not by the force of sheer personal need, but by the obligation to attend to duty.  It is not the poor who should have to seek out the wealthy; rather, it is the duty of the wealthy person to seek out a neighbor who could benefit from his wealth.  The rich need the poor much more, and in a much higher sense, that the poor need the rich.  All that the poor man can get from the rich is assistance for his material needs.  But for the rich man, the poor are the means that enable him to carry out his sublime spiritual and moral task of paying to G-d the tribute He expects in return for every penny He bestows on us.”

As the Sages teach, יותר ממה שבעל הבית עושה עם העני, העני עושה עם בעל הבית – More than the homeowner (giver) does for the poor person, the poor person does for the homeowner (giver).  For money lended is finite and transitory, but the mitzvah one procured for himself, through the act of giving, is infinite and eternal. 

“One year, Pesach fell on motzei Shabbos.  Henny (Rebbetzin Machlis a’h of J’lem, d.2015) had cooked for a large Seder for her extended family.  They had informed everyone else that they would not be hosting (the meals) that Shabbos.  (The Machlis home is graced with upwards of 100 people for the Shabbos meals, week in and week out…)

“Nonetheless, on Friday night, scores of people showed up for dinner.  R’ Machlis did not want to let them in.  ‘We need all the food for the Seder,’ he told Henny.  Henny wanted to admit them and feed them.  ‘Mordechai,’ she said to her husband, ‘remember, we’re allowed to cook on Yom Tov.  Tonight we’ll use everything I already cooked, and we’ll worry about Pesach tomorrow night.’  She reminded him that the Gemara says that whoever has something to eat today and is worried about tomorrow is on a low level. 

“Recalls R’ Machlis, ‘She said that we could not turn them away.  So I let them in and seated everybody.  And all of our food for Pesach went on Shabbos.  And on Pesach, she just started cooking from scratch” (Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, Artscroll, p.189-190).

In the merit of when we give with kindness and compassion, for tomorrow the tables may be turned, may we merit the promise that the Sages teach is the reward for giving:

הַשְׁקִ֩יפָה֩ מִמְּע֨וֹן קָדְשְׁךָ֜ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבָרֵ֤ךְ אֶת־עַמְּךָ֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תָּה לָ֑נוּ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּ֨עְתָּ֙ לַֽאֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ – Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given to us, as You swore to our forefathers a land flowing with milk and honey (Devarim 26:15).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,

Michal

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